Hanging onto Hope, Like My Kashmiri Friends Have Taught Me
A freelance journalist from Kathmandu recounts her experience in Kashmir.
I always wanted to go to Kashmir, to see if my Kashmiri friends were right about how they explained the beauty, people and culture of their homeland.
I finally had a chance in August 2016, when my best friend’s brother was to get married. I booked the tickets three months prior and kept excitedly preparing for the wedding along with my friend. When the trip was round the corner, Kashmir erupted into a massive battleground in July 2016 after the Indian forces killed a popular militant leader Burhan Wani.
My parents stopped me from going amid various fears. I cannot even recount the complexities I had to deal with trying to convince my parents and allow me to travel anyway. ‘What if you would be killed? It is a war zone,’ they asked questions that I could not even answer.
After one year, when things turned comparatively better in 2017, finally my trip to Kashmir happened. My same friend invited me to her home to celebrate Eid. This was the first time I ever celebrated the festival of Muslims. We went to the local bakeries to buy cakes. They shared their space with me and treated me as one of their own. My friend showed me around. We walked on the banks of Jhelum and our conversations were poetry – as we were in the land of my favourite poets. I have walked up the entire stretch of boulevard on the banks of the enchanting Dal Lake and the lap of beautiful Zabarwan hills in Srinagar.
Kashmiris are known for their hospitality. When I was there, I felt whatever the world says about it, is an understatement. I felt overwhelmed with how I was treated by everyone I met.
My friend’s father would wake his daughter up every morning for prayers and before sleeping he would always check on us, if we are comfortable.
She calls him Abu. So do I. Abu also allowed me to drive his car (My friend tells me he has never trusted anyone with his car) and asked me to come back again so that he could take me around and show me more of Kashmir.
Before I left for Delhi, I made up my mind of coming back to Kashmir but for a longer time.
Before he could do that, Abu, who is a pro-freedom leader got arrested the very next day I left from Kashmir. It has been two years now. My friends has not spoken to her Abu for one year and this Eid, she didn’t get to speak to her loved ones in Kashmir also.
Communication With Family Snapped
The Indian government put a ban on every mean of communication in Kashmir before revoking the Article 370, that gave significant autonomy to the conflict region.
My friend, who is a student in a different country, has not been able to contact any of her family members for the last nine days. She could not even wish them on Eid.
It feels wrong to celebrate now. She is at war with herself. She told me how not being able to speak with her family was tearing her apart. For some reasons, it was never hard to understand her despair.
I had a group of Kashmiri friends living in New Delhi. I would be with them more than I used to be with my family or any other friends in Delhi.
The Personal is Political
I lived with them, through their happiness and pain. Every conversation I have had with them is a story of suffering and resistance. They have learnt to survive and oppose the chaos around them. Every story I have heard from them is tragic, and it affected me always. What is different about this generation, I ask myself. And how was the generation before them. And how is it going to be 10 years down the line?
I have understood that Kashmiri people live through hope. They are different because they have been shaped differently.
I have seen my friends joke even during tensed situations. Politics is in their blood. Their humor is political. I have lived with best of people amid struggles, anxieties but also through hope.
My friends have grown up amid curfews, atrocities and communication blackouts. I have learnt from hearing stories about how important freedom is to Kashmir. Every time I spoke about struggles, I was only curious and by the end of the conversation, I would just give them an apologetic look.
Kashmir – A Feeling
That’s all I could offer. They grew up learning to survive every day. I know my friends grew up with the inherent stress. Whenever we would hang out, everything we spoke about would directly or indirectly revolve around Kashmir and its freedom. Also, in Kashmir, one finds art and resistance in everything that exists. Their lives are representation of art in itself.
Kashmir is a legacy of pain and pride that has taken an emotional toll on its own people. Over the years I have learned that living in denial is essential to survival in Kashmir. They live.
Kashmir is not what they tell you. It not only about gardens, lakes and Shikara. It is not about noon chai and Kahwah. It a feeling. Kashmir is a major chapter of my life and Kashmir is home away from home.
My friends are suffering. My families in Kashmir who didn’t let me stay on a houseboat and took me home are living through hard times. I have friends there who’d go out of their ways to help me in need. I have mothers who’ve fed me. I have fathers who loved me like they loved their own daughters.
The home place that I always find back in my dreams is incommunicado to the outside world for the eighth day, as I write this.
This month I was planning to fly to Srinagar to attend my other friend’s wedding. And again, life being so uncertain for Kashmir and Kashmiris. I might not go because it is likely the wedding celebrations have been called off.
But I feel helpless. The world is silent over what is happening. All I can do, is hope. Hope, that Kashmir and Kashmiris taught me to live with.
(Days and dates in the blog subjective to the time of writing this article.)
(The author is a freelance journalist based in Kathmandu, Nepal. She tweets at @Madhvi26. All 'My Report' branded stories are submitted by citizen journalists to The Quint. Though The Quint inquires into the claims/allegations from all parties before publishing, the report and the views expressed above are the citizen journalist's own. The Quint neither endorses, nor is responsible for the same.)
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